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Proper handling of used batteries

Batteries used in many household and office products, as well as motor vehicle batteries, contain a variety of heavy metals and other materials that can be harmful to human health and the environment if not handled properly. Many of these materials can be recovered and reused by specialized recyclers.

Dry cell batteries

Batteries used in homes, businesses and schools

Household AA batteries

Dry cell batteries are batteries used in many products – including portable electronics, power tools, watches, calculators, hand-held vacuum cleaners, lawn care equipment, flashlights, toys and hearing aids. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes and include both rechargeable and non-rechargeable battery types. They include alkaline, alkaline rechargeable, lithium, lithium ion, metal hydride, mercuric oxide, nickel-cadmium, silver oxide and zinc-air batteries. They include AAA, AA, C, D, 9V, button, coin and other sizes, and may also be incorporated in products (such as cell phones and laptops).

Environmental and safety impacts of dry cell batteries

The materials in many types of dry cell batteries – including mercury, lithium, cadmium, lead and acids – have the potential to be hazardous wastes. If batteries are burned or landfilled, the heavy metals in them can be released into the environment.

Many batteries, particularly rechargeable lithium ion batteries used in many electronics, present a significant risk of fire if they are mishandled or damaged. For that reason, it is important to handle used batteries properly.

Safe management of used batteries from households

Wisconsin has no legal requirements for disposing of household dry-cell batteries. Household waste is not regulated as a hazardous waste. Homeowners should check with their local recycling program to see if there are additional restrictions. The publication below includes a guide to managing different types of batteries.

If storing batteries for recycling, you can reduce fire risk by taping ends of batteries with clear packing tape or putting each battery in an individual plastic bag, and storing them in a non-metal leakproof container with a lid (such as a plastic bucket).

While households are not required to recycle batteries, putting non-alkaline batteries in the trash or curbside recycling carts/bins can pose a risk to garbage collectors, solid waste transfer stations and landfills because of the potential for the batteries to catch on fire, especially if damaged by equipment. Many types of consumer electronics are banned from landfill or incinerator disposal in Wisconsin and can be recycled through the E-Cycle Wisconsin program.

Requirements for managing batteries from non-households

Batteries generated by businesses, schools, institutions, governments and other non-households are subject to universal waste requirements and must be properly managed based on the battery type. Some batteries may be put in the trash, but others must be recycled or managed as hazardous waste. See the publication below for a guide to managing different battery types.

Find battery recycling locations

Reduce waste at the source by buying rechargeable batteries when possible. When rechargeable batteries come to the end of their lifespan, they can be recycled. Alkaline batteries may be put in the trash, but some battery retailers or other recycling locations may accept alkaline batteries for a small fee.

Do NOT place batteries or electronics in curbside recycling carts or bins, because they may cause a fire if damaged by equipment in recycling trucks or facilities.

To find a drop-off location in your area for rechargeable or other batteries:

Requirements and safety procedures for battery collectors, transporters and recyclers

Those who collect batteries (from households or non-households), transport them, remove them from products (such as electronics) or recycle them must follow universal and hazardous waste requirements and U.S. Department of Transportation regulations. There are also several best management practices designed to prevent fires.

As the number of battery-containing devices increases, along with the number of different battery chemistries, it is important to make sure you store used batteries safely. If you collect and ship batteries, there are additional safety requirements and considerations.

Automotive (lead-acid) batteries

Batteries used in motor vehicles and engines

Lead-acid batteries, or "automotive type batteries," are found in cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats and vehicles and devices with internal combustion engines.

Car battery

If stored improperly, lead-acid batteries may leak or spill and cause lead and/or acid contamination of the soil and groundwater. Acid from leaking batteries can burn the eyes and skin. If recycled properly, the lead can be recovered for reuse.

Under chapter 287.07(1m), Wis. Stats., it is illegal to burn or dispose of lead-acid batteries in Wisconsin.

Retailer battery recycling program

Lead-acid batteries are completely recyclable. Consumers may bring lead-acid batteries to any Wisconsin retailer that sells these batteries, during normal business hours, for recycling. This service is free to customers who purchase a new battery when they bring in a used one. Customers may be charged a fee of up to $3 if they bring in a used battery without purchasing a new one.

Retailers must charge a deposit of $10 on the sale of an automotive type replacement battery, and must refund the deposit if the customer returns to the same retailer, at any location owned or operated by the retailer, with a used battery. The retailer may require proof that the consumer purchased a battery from the retailer.

The state recycling law requires battery retailers to post a sign stating "Recycle Automotive Batteries Here." The sign must be 8.5 x 11 inches and be visible to customers.

Resources for retailers

Safe handling of lead-acid batteries

When handling a used lead-acid battery, use rubber gloves and eye protection and always wash hands immediately after handling the battery. Store used batteries in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area on a leak-proof surface or in a dry, well-ventilated area in a leak-proof container to protect against exposure and ensure that acid and lead will not leak into soil or groundwater. Do not short circuit battery terminals or remove vent caps. Protect battery from physical damage. Sealed five-gallon plastic pails are adequate for storing a leaking or cracked battery.

Last revised: Thursday November 29 2018